Count Five and Pray
By Gary Singh
WHEN writing in 1971 about the San Jose band Count Five, the genius music critic Lester Bangs called them a "bunch of young guitar-slappin' brats from some indistinguishable California suburb." But he went on to praise them for pages and pages, extolling the virtues of their hit "Psychotic Reaction." That screed is included in a priceless collection of masterpieces called Psychotic Reactions and Carburetor Dung: The Work of a Legendary Critic: Rock 'N' Roll as Literature and Literature as Rock 'N' Roll. Bangs went on to create a whole imaginary future for the band, describing another Count Five album, Carburetor Dung, as the only slab of theirs that fell flat. In a negative context, he described it as their "grungiest" album.
Now Count Five is reuniting yet again at History San Jose's inaugural San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame hoedown on Friday, Oct. 20. Headlining the celebration will be some hodgepodge incarnation of Jefferson Starship featuring at least Paul Kantner. Syndicate of Sound, another '60s San Jose band, will also take the stage.
The invite for the $100-per-head event says this: "When people across the nation and around the world think of California, they think of San Francisco and Los Angeles. When they think about the California rock music scene they identify those same areas. The surprise is that some of the most influential rock 'n' roll acts of all time got their start right here in San Jose and Silicon Valley, not to mention technological advances."
Fair enough. At least somebody is trying to establish San Jose as something besides an indistinguishable suburb. Now, if you ask anybody outside San Jose, the only local rock legends most folks will mention are the Doobie Brothers. Yet, they will not be taking part due to a scheduling conflict. But you will see John Tristao, who currently jams with Doug and Stu from Creedence Clearwater, both SJSU alums.
Many other tales will come out of this party. For example, Stevie Nicks also went to San Jose State, although she eventually dropped out, right alongside Lindsey Buckingham. And as the story goes, she lost out to Count Five in a battle of the bands in the late '60s. After the battle, she walked up to the band and said, "You're good, but you're not as good as me." Nicks and Buckingham lurked in the area a few more years before joining Fleetwood Mac.
Of course, the reason why all these people went on to achieve stardom is because they eventually left San Jose, and the invitation for this event reads like a desperate attempt to track down any famous musician with even remote ties to the South Bay. It mentions the Los Gatos band Trapt in the same sentence as the Doobie Brothers.
But I must give credit to the History San Jose folks. At least they're trying. They just left out the fact that the suburban alienation of growing up in Los Gatos is what drove Trapt to do what they did. Their bio says this: "The group's high school roots in the Bay Area town of Los Gatos, California, have been described by one astute observer as nothing less than 'twisted suburbia.' It often felt like a trap to the youngsters growing up ... and it's of course what ultimately led to the band's unique moniker." That is, they were driven to create solely because they were stuck here in the nauseating suburbs.
And speaking of that, History San Jose also forgot to include early '80s San Jose skate-punk bands like the Faction and Los Olvidados, who helped carve out a scene comparable to S.F. or SoCal and put San Jose on the punk rock and skateboarding map nationwide, if not worldwide. You will never see those cats being inducted into a "San Jose Rocks Hall of Fame" and they would probably refuse the opportunity anyway. They hated all the hippies. Consequently, Los Olvidados translates as "the forgotten ones." Perfect. Lester Bangs would have loved it.
Anyway, the event should be a superb hoedown. Syndicate of Sound and Count Five were two quintessential Bay Area garage bands of the '60s, and the most famous picture of Count Five is a black and white shot of them sporting Lugosian capes out in front of the Winchester Mystery House in the '60s. That alone is worth celebrating.